An Adequate Christmas—Why Did Jesus Have To Come Down?
Ian Provan begins his commentary on this text with the following illustration:
US Navy Radio Communiqué:
VOICE 1: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.
VOICE 2: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.
VOICE 1: This is the captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.
VOICE 2: No, I say again, divert your course.
VOICE 1: This is the aircraft carrier Enterprise. We are a large warship of the U.S. Navy. Divert your course now.
VOICE 2: This is a lighthouse. Your call.
All the words, work, and wealth cannot change the reality of God and the things of God. The reality of God is like a lighthouse attached to an immovable rock in comparison with man’s wealth, efforts, and words.
Solomon is opposing a certain worldview, one which we may call “humanist.” It is human-centered instead of God-centered. The humanist is one who thinks that the solution to the problems of life may be solved by human wealth, human work, and human words.
The Bible essentially teaches us that mankind fell due to sin, and now is incapable to think and act in any other way but in terms of human-centeredness. Yet, the Christian is enlightened to see that the problem is God’s curse on man for sin which is only lifted by grace. When have you ever had a thought that was God-centered, that is, totally about glorifying God? The problem in the world is the religion of the unconverted.
The New Testament describes the fullness of the gospel in the terms of “better” (E.g. Hebrews). The idea is the difference between substance and shadows. The Christian experiences the substance of God’s redemption. Speaking in hyperbole or overstatement, Solomon teaches here that the redeemed are at a supreme advantage even if he were still-born, or suffering wants, or is silent in comparison to the unredeemed who has much wealth, does much work, and has many words. The redeemed without these things (again speaking in overstatement) are much better off than the unredeemed who possess all of these things. Essentially, Solomon pictures for us a portrait of a Christian believer saved by grace—without life, without ability, and without words to change anything about his circumstance. Except for God’s grace, man is lost. This is why Jesus had to come down to us. He had to come down to us because we are people of an unconverted religion called humanism, which is all about ourselves and nothing about the glory of God. This humanistic religion is inadequate, it makes for an inadequate Christmas as well.
We need an adequate Christ for an adequate Christmas and life.
First, Jesus had to come down because mankind had no real life.
Second, Jesus had to come down because mankind had no real ability.
Third, Jesus had to come down because mankind had no adequate words.
Mankind’s Inadequate Wealth
The first reason that Jesus had to come down was that mankind’s wealth was inadequate to save them.
“There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?” (Ecclesiastes 6:1–6 ESV)
The wealth here encompasses “wealth, possessions, and honor” and is said to leave the man satisfied in terms of the material, but he is little concerned with his need for the grace to enjoy the material. Man is so dead in sin that he cannot perceive the need of his heart. God gives material blessings to mankind throughout the world in what may seem to the humanist as an arbitrary distribution, but this is not the case. God gives as he pleases with design. Yet, mankind experiencing wealth, possessions, and honor in certain places is truly poor without grace in the heart. Lasting only a short time, material possessions end up being enjoyed by strangers. Consider long life and family. These also are inadequate to save. We must forever be reminded that not even the family is the gospel, however beautiful the family is. The family only becomes good news when all are in covenant obedience to God. Yet, this man described lives long (perhaps so long he is never buried!) and has countless children, but is wants the grace of eternal life. Remind yourself here that he is speaking in hyperbole. Let us not think we are spiritual whether we have many kids or none at all. The word “burial” is mentioned in v.3 either is that he was never buried or in a respect of honor, or in respect to the fact that there is no rest in peace for those who have not first rested in God. Hebrew Scholar Benjamin Shaw takes it that the man is never buried because he doesn’t die. Again it is hyperbole, saying that even if you never die— if you have merely all these good things in life— it will not be a good thing at all because you have no enjoyment in them. The hyperbolic statements continue saying, “a stillborn child is better off than he” emphasizing the great need mankind has for the grace of eternal life that cannot be bought by human means. The stillborn child goes to be in God’s presence (according to Solomon in v.6), though he does not see the light of day. The stillborn child has rest, but yet this wealthy man described possesses nothing of this rest.
The word “rest” in v.5 is not a rest given by the wealth or even earthly wisdom, but the rest Jesus gives true rest.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””
(Matthew 11:28–30 ESV)
It is a rest that does not cease and is forever the place from which the Christian works. This “rest” is inner tranquility while engaged in necessary labor. Again, the stillborn is a hyperbolic statement. Mankind is incapable of gaining salvation by his wealth, so one mine as well have been stillborn in comparison to being wealthy to be saved. The stillborn are considered saved by God. And thus, the inadequacy of human wealth is made known and the grace of God in Christ magnified. We needed Jesus to come down to save us because we could not possess enough earthly wealth, possessions, or honor to do so. We needed Jesus to come down to save us, as the wealth, possessions, and honor themselves did not fulfill the need of man’s soul. Jesus himself said this,
““Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.””(Luke 12:15 ESV)
Heaven was so full, but our hearts so empty, so God’s Son who was full of all our soul needs, needed to come down. Do you treat your possessions as if they are the things in which life consists? Or do you look to Christ who came down; who had to come down because you really needed it so?
Mankind’s Inadequate Works
The second reason why Jesus had to come down was that mankind could not produce the works to save themselves.
“All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.”(Ecclesiastes 6:7–9 ESV)
The word “toil” is a keyword used throughout Ecclesiastes (E.g. first in 1:3). It describes man’s work. A man may work hard, yet his true appetite is never satisfied. This may even come in the form of earthly wisdom (v.8), but cannot save. The “sight” that Solomon mentions is put in contrast with a wondering appetite (literally “wandering soul”). The Targum (1st Century translation and interpretation of the Hebrew) translates v.9 as follows:
“It is better for a man to rejoice about the world to come, and to do righteousness, and to see a good reward for his labors in the day of the great judgement, than to go into that world with an afflicted soul.”
Essentially, a man who has sight of eternity is better than one who is blind to such things. Man can “toil” to feed his mouth, but is incapable of feeding his soul. The work of man is to no avail as it is tainted by sin, cursed, and incapable of earning grace. Grace is the gift of God and cannot be bought with wealth or works. The grace of God is essentially Jesus Christ the person. So, Jesus had to come down, because He alone had the works to purchase our salvation. If one views it another way it will always be wanting. For example, constant desire for salvation leads to work, but in Christ, you have salvation which leads to worship. This is the type of seeing preferred here.
It is said of Charles Spurgeon that he struggled with what salvation meant until he went into a Methodist church due to a snowstorm and heard a deacon preach from Isaiah, saying look to Christ, just look! And he looked and was saved! The smallest sight of Christ outweighs the greatest efforts of man. It takes no work you can do to be saved, but it does take looking to all of Christ for your salvation, not your own works. It is a settled received salvation if it is the grace of Jesus Christ—everything else is inadequate.
Do you believe that? Do you receive what Christ has done as incomparable to what man can do? We’ve seen enough of what man can do. We need only what God can do. Will you now look only to what God can do?
Mankind’s Inadequate Words
Having seen the inadequacy of earthly wealth and works, we also now see from Solomon that man does not possess adequate words to save himself. Jesus had to come down because we needed an adequate Word.
“Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 6:10–12 ESV)
The humanist has a lot of words, but according to Solomon that just increases his guilt and doesn’t do away with it. Think of someone caught in a trespass. They often will talk on and on only demonstrating how guilty they really are. So, our words, however many are inadequate to save a single human soul.
So, we read of Christ’s adequacy as follows:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV)
Only the words of Christ are adequate to save a soul. We had better instead of trying to speak our way out of condemnation, begin to listen. Stephen Charnock writes of v.10,
God doth act all things conveniently for that immutable end intended by himself, and according to the reason of his own will, in the true point of time most proper for it and for us, not too soon or too slow, because he is unchangeable in knowledge and wisdom. God doth not act anything barely by an immutable will, but by an immutable wisdom, and an unchangeable rule of goodness; and, therefore, we should not only acquiesce in what he works, but have a complacency in it; and by having our wills thus knitting themselves with the immutable will of God, we attain some degree of likeness to him in his own unchangeableness. When, therefore, God hath manifested his will in opening his decree to the world by his work of providence, we must cease all disputes against it, and, with Aaron hold our peace, though the affliction be very smart (Rev 10:3). "All flesh must be silent before God" (Zech 2:13); for whatsoever is his counsel shall stand, and cannot be recalled. All struggling against it is like a brittle glass contending with a rock; for "if he cut off and shut up, or gather together, then who can hinder him?" (Job 11:10.) Nothing can help us, if he hath determined to afflict us, as nothing can hurt us, if he hath determined to secure us. The more clearly God hath evidenced this or that to be his will, the more sinful is our struggling against it. Pharaoh's sin was the greater in keeping Israel, by how much the more God's miracles had been demonstrations of his settled will to deliver them. Let nothing snatch our hearts to a contradiction to him, but let us fear and give glory to him, when the hour of judgment which he hath appointed is come (Rev 14:7); that is, comply with the unchangeable will of his precept, the more he declares the immutable will of his providence. We must not think God must disgrace his nature and change his proceedings for us; better the creature should suffer, than God be impaired in any of his perfections. If God changed his purpose he would change his nature. Patience is the way to perform the immutable will of God, and a means to attain a gracious immutability for ourselves by receiving the promise (Heb 10:36), "Ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise."
This word of promise Mary had who sat at Jesus’ feet had and would not be taken from her, as she listened to him (cf. Luke 10:38–42)! Matthew Poole rightly comments,
Reader! if you are a child of God, the favour of God will be to you the "one thing needful." In other things, you will not venture to choose for yourself; "for who knoweth what is good for man in this life?" (Eccles 6:12.) But in this choice you will be decided. This grand, incomparable desire will fill your heart. This will be to you as the portion of ten thousand worlds. Nothing will satisfy besides.
You may, indeed, be a child of God without the enjoyment of the blessing; but not so, if you be content to be without it. If the wise sovereignty of our God is pleased to withhold it, still the child in submission will entreat it. Much more, when it is withdrawn in righteous chastening of carelessness or folly, will the cry be reiterated upon the ground of the covenant—Be merciful unto me according to thy word. (Ps 89:30-33.)
In v. 12a God’s providence is indicated in the one who knows what is good for man. So, to use our words to complain about shortages is to complain against God. Have you considered when things get strait, that God knows what you need to draw you near? But yet, that is what we will do in order to fix things, complain, fill up with words that will never save.
So, Jesus had to come down to save us, as we could not save ourselves by wealth, works, or even our many words. We needed Jesus Christ, the wealth of heaven; Jesus Christ, the work of God; Jesus Christ, the Word. We have hope only of an adequate celebration of Christ with an adequate Christ whose wealth, works, and words are adequate to save us. Thanks be to God for His coming in the flesh. He makes Christmas, and all such lawful things material and spiritual adequate to enjoy.
And besides this, Christmas tells us about the future. Solomon says, “For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?” (v.12b). Christ can and has. He has declared the future will be his. Christmas announces the King, not a president. Christmas announces the adequacy of Christ, not the adequacy of man. Christmas announces that where mankind simply doesn’t have the words, God has given the Word!
We’ve seen diplomacy of mankind, discussions, conversations, all to no avail. Mankind’s words fail to reconcile man to God, let alone men with men. We’ve seen what man’s words can do, but do you believe in what God’s Word can do? Do you believe the Bible and the Word of God that changes hearts? Do you believe in the Word, God’s Son, who came down for you to receive Him? Do you receive Him today?
We have now considered the inadequacy of man’s wealth, works, and words. But we have an adequate means of celebrating Christmas because indeed we have an adequate Christ. He is adequate in all he possesses in wealth, possessions, honor, works, and words. Where he has given eternal life to us we must praise him for his coming down to do so. Where he has worked such a great salvation, of whose substance is God himself planning, executing, and applying, we must celebrate it! Where he has spoken words that bring life and faith and hope, we must give thanks to Jesus Christ, who alone came down from heaven to purchase, work, and communicate everything needful and necessary for our salvation. Thus, the trees, the gifts, the food, and everything in life now makes sense. The shortest life on earth that has this eternal life is rich in comparison to the one who cannot enjoy it! The most passionate seeker of satisfaction in life is but poor in comparison to the one who sees what life is about from an unknown quarter of the world! The most silent and mute in the world are rich in comparison to the greatest of philosophers without Christ. An adequate Christ has come down to make for an adequate Christmas for the stillborn, for the spiritually seeing, for even the silent and mute. Do you receive Jesus Christ? It will be the most adequate Christmas ever if you do.
If you even be one of these who receives Jesus Christ, you are rich in worlds untold! Like Susan, Edmund, and Lucy in the Narnian tales, Alsan states, Once a king or a queen in Narnia, always a king or a queen in Narnia!” You have a salvation as immovable as Christ said of Mary, that on the Rock will never be taken from you. May you then each have a Merry Christmas! Amen.1
A sermon preached corresponding to this manuscript may be found in audio form at https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=121921162828001